ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. - Jasper native Kylie Williams, 19, Miss Jacksonville for 2003, competed well in the Miss Florida Pageant for the second consecutive year, this time being named co-winner in the overall talent competition at this year's event, held at the historic Mahaffey Theater in St. Pete the week of June 25-28.

Williams was joined as a co-winner in the overall talent competition by Suzanne Metzler, Miss Pinellas County; Valerie Lynch, Miss Orlando, and Ericka Dunlap, who was crowned Miss Florida for 2003.

Competing as "Miss City Beautiful" Dunlap, an Orlando resident, became the first ever African-American to represent Florida in the Miss America Pageant, which will be held in Atlantic City and televised on ABC Saturday evening, September 20, 2003.

Branford native Kelli Cooper, Miss North Florida for 2003, was also a contestant in this year's Miss Florida Pageant. Like Williams, Cooper also represented her crown in a first-class manner with her platform promoting Childhood Literacy.

An outstanding accomplishment

Earning the distinction of co-winner for the 2003 overall talent competition is an outstanding accomplishment for Williams, considering it came amongst a distinguished group of 42 contestants from all over the state, in what many pageant insiders considered to be one of the toughest field of contestants the Miss Florida Pageant has fielded over the past 30 years.

Kylie's rendition of "I Want to be a Cowboy's Sweetheart" during the Talent competition Friday night was an opportunity for her to display her impressive and versatile singing talent, which has already earned her opportunities to record in Nashville.

Performing the country song requires an intricate, complex skill in yodeling, which Williams has mastered.

The array of talent on display at the 2003 Miss Florida Pageant included jazz dance, baton, tap dancing and classical violin along with singing artists.

Able to relax and enjoy being Miss Jacksonville

Prior to this year's pageant, she felt her 2002 experience would enable her to be much more relaxed, at ease and able to have fun with all the pageantry and festivities involved.

In 2002, Williams, competing as Miss Baymeadows, was a top 10 finalist for Miss Florida, this despite being one of the youngest competitors.

"Last year at the Miss Florida pageant I was extremely nervous about who to talk to, when to talk, when not to, but now I have the experience and it will be a lot more fun," said Kylie, a Junior at Florida State University majoring in Marketing. She also has aspirations to attend law school upon graduation at FSU.

Williams' platform at Miss Florida this year was "The Dangers of Drinking and Driving Under the Influence of Alcohol." It is a topic she feels very strongly about.

Williams has indicated she plans to take Victim Advocacy training in September and is working with Florida MADD Director Andy Hindman to get legislation passed to reward cops who issue 100 DUIs in a year with a pay raise.

Among her duties as Miss Jacksonville, Williams has sung the national anthem at a hockey game and also made a round of radio and television appearances.

"I have had great directors to work with in the Miss Jacksonville pageant -

they have offered to help in any way they can," she said. "I was skeptical at first, Jacksonville is such an enormous place - but this has been a great opportunity for me."

Williams said prior to this year's pageant she will pursue singing if "she gets a huge opportunity" but will definitely finish her four-year degree at FSU.

"I'm only 19 years old and have my whole life ahead of me," she said. "I'm not in any rush. I will try to compete again in the Miss America system. The experience has enabled me to sharpen my interview skills, do lots of public appearances and make a lot of great friends."

Distinguished guests in attendance

The historic, 2,000 seat Mahaffey Theater served as the venue for the 2003 Miss Florida Pageant, in which Saturday night's finals capped three days of preliminaries, where the 42 women were divided into three groups and performed one event per night. One of the event's judges was Debbie Turner, Miss America 1990.

Also in attendance were the Mayor of St. Petersburg, Rick Baker, and former Miss Florida winners from 1945, 1975, 1990, 1992, 1998, 1999 and 2001. Contestants stayed at the St. Pete Hilton all week during the competition.

The 2003 Miss Florida Pageant's first runner-up was Shauna Pender, Miss St. Petersburg, winner of a $5,000 cash scholarship. Rounding out the top five finalists were the following contestants: Second runner-up Valerie Lynch, Miss Orlando; Third runner-up Morgan Ortagus, Miss Florida Orange Blossom and Fourth runner-up Kristin O'Rear, Miss Panama City.

Other top 10 finalists included Shannon Schambeau, Miss Dade City; Megan Alonge, Miss Largo; Cristina Bermudez, Miss Seminole; Allison Lee Kreiger, Miss Seminole County and Merissa Amkraut, Miss South Florida Coast.

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